Harald Høffding.

Outlines of psychology online

. (page 29 of 41)
Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 29 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

creed. Impartial knowledge works into the hands of widest
sympathy ; and both come to a stop only at natural bound-
aries. Finally, the development of the intellectual life has
importance also for the form and the means in and by which
sympathy is gratified. If the sympathetic impulse of the moment
is indulged, the object of sympathy may be as likely injured as
benefited. This momentary emotion must, then, admit of being

> It was a moment memorable in tlie history of the world, when Abraham Lincoln, on
his entry into Richmond, took off his hut before a negro who gave him his blessing. A
lady who was looking on from a window above turned away with inexpressible horror !


kept in check, to make way for consideration of the enduring
happiness of the object, and this is impossible without the capacity
for far-sighted and all-round rellcction. Sympathy, like egoism,
may show a dread of circumscription, a desire to be allowed its
course, and so far it may even be said to contain an egoistic
" moment."

The relation between the intellectual and the emotional element
in sympathy varies to infinity in the individual cases. Now a re-
flection in imagination of the nature and fate of the object, now our
immediate unity of life and feeling with it, lends the feeling its
special character. Poetic sympathy is characterized by the pre-
ponderance of the first influence, so that sometimes a pure imagin-
ative satisfaction may be found even in dwelling on and describing
adversity and the dark side of life. Writings which give a vivid
and correct description of personal and social suffering, may have
a certain repelling effect, because of the absence of genuine feeling.
The intellectual element of sympathy is at the same time a
distancing force ; it permits the object of sympathy to recede
somewhat, that it may be the more fully apprehended. It is
therefore of importance only where the substratum of feeling is
strong and deep. The emotional element lies deeper than the in-
tellectual ; the real importance of the latter is in its refining,
enlarging, and exalting effect.

7. We return to the question of the possibility of disinterested
sympathy. From what precedes, it is evident that we may very
well apply the term '' interest " to sympathy without necessarily
stigmatizing it as egoism. The race can as little be separated from
the individual, as the individual from the race. In the instincts
which lie at the bottom of maternal feeling and of the feeling of
love, what is marvellous is just this impossibility of drawing a
line between what the race desires and what the individual. And
however ideal a character sympathy may acquire, however exalted
ajid comprehensive that in which a man finds pleasure may be, it
is just as much a part of his self, of his consciousness, as he is a
part of it. The pleasure and pain which he feels in it are his own
pleasure and pain ; how else could he feel them.'* But in "dis-
interested love " he does not feel them as his own in the sense that
absorption in the object is only a means of greater personal
enjoyment. If not "one who wishes to annihilate himself," a
" disinterested person " can only mean one who immediately
shares in, and rests in, the pleasure and the pain of others, with-



out demanding for himself more than the power of being thus

It is impossible to love anything or anybody without experiencing-
thereby joy and satisfaction. A special pleasure is associated
with every strong stir of feeling, whatever the nature of the feel-
ing. Even in sorrow there is, together with the bitterness, a depth
and vividness of mood, a strong stirring of the mental powers,
which has its attraction and its charm. It is as the opening of all
the floodgates. This is the pleasure or gratification in weeping and
mourning, of which even Homer speaks. Strong emotion introduces,
moreover,a series of organic reflexes, and with their discharge is com-
bined a certain satisfaction. In mental and bodily exaltation is thus
to be sought the ground of the attractiveness which lies in sorrow.^
What may in this way take place in sorrow, is found more or less
in all other feelings. Here lies undoubtedly the germ of an
egoistic turn even to the sympathetic feelings. There may be an
hysterical desire to set feeling in motion. The feeling is enjoyed,
being made the object of reflection. But here there is more than
the immediate feeling ; the idea of self as possessing the feel-
ing comes into effect. This reflectiveness of feeling is the
peculiarity of sentimentality, which is consequently mainly a
modern phenomenon (though it may be traced already in Euripides
and in the Alexandrian epoch). The egoistic element in sentimen-
tality is the coquetting which the individual — instead of being quite
taken up with the feeling — carries on with himself as the subject of
the feeling. It is connected with this instinctive or conscious
satisfaction in the stir of feeling, that sympathetic feeling is
so often thoughtless, and consequently satisfied without being of
real service to the object of sympathy. The mark of unselfish
sympathy in this as in other respects is the possibility of resigna-
tion. Pure and strong sympathy must be able even to deny itself.
Sympathy may be subjected to yet another test. Even if we are
quite absorbed in our feeling for an object, we may still retain the
wish that it should be we ourselves who work and live for it. If now
circumstances ari:ie in which our service is a check on the develop-
ment of the object's nature and worth, or in which others can work
for it better and more efficaciously, it becomes a question whether

1 This explanation, given by W. H.'iniilton and Bouillier, seems to me the most pro-
bable (Cf. Bouillier, Du I'laidr et de la DoiiUur, chap, vii.)- It is more natural than
that suggested by Spencer (I'rhtc. of Psychol., ii., p. 590, seq.), according to which
the desire to abandon oneself to sorrow would spring from a feeling of suffering un-
deservedly, sorrow thus, through an effect of contrast, calling out a lively consciousness
of real merit.


our sympathy is strong enough to make us draw back, or to let us
feel contented that it is not we who are charged with the care of the
beloved object.

Such resignation is possible, and affords the finest proof of pure-
ness of sympathy. So far, Molinos and Fcnelon in a theological,
and Spinoza in a philosophical connection, were perfectly right to
present a love free from all thought of self, independent of all re-
ward or punishment, as the highest. The Catholic Church con-
demned this doctrine, principally indeed that the educative media
contained in the thought of rewards and punishment should not be
lost. Psychology, however, cannot admit that disinterested love is
a chimera ; it is chimerical only when carried so far as to require
that life and the stir of feeling shall be lost in an absolutely simple,
quiescent state. Such a state, as already frequently observed,
would mean the cessation of conscious life.

8. With the higher forms of sympathy is connected the ethical
feeling. In disinterested sympathy the feeling of pleasure or pain
is immediately determined by the recognition of an existence other
than that of the individual himself. Instead of seeming the centre
of existence, the individual now feels himself one among many.
He now judges even his volitions and actions not only by the
pleasure or pain they afford him, but also by the advance or re-
trogression they bring to the object of sympathy. When sympathy
leads to such a valuation, it becomes an ethical feeling. This
appears in its fully developed form when sympathy embraces all
creatures that feel and suffer, and when consequently the value is
decided; by consideration of the greatest possible benefit to the
greatest possible number. The ethical feeling has then the
character of a feeling of justice, understanding by justice a com-
bination of sympathy and wisdom (" caritas sapicntis" to use
Leibniz's expression). The notion of justice involves two things ;
an impulse to give, and an impulse to give according to the true
needs of each claimant. There is thus, besides the intellectual
" moment '■' that is found in all higher forms of sympathy ((/. 6),
a new intellectual " moment" in ethical feeling, by which the right
division and direction of sympathy are contUtioned. The ethical
feeling implies the idea of a connected whole of conscious beings,
each of whom has his own special centre of life, and each of whom
consequently has a claim to a special form and direction of
sympathy. The view being thus enlarged, the individual feels him-
self only a single member of a great kingdom evolved in the course

S 2


of ages. And that to which the impulse of self-preservation and
the impulse of momentary sympathy alike impel him, is ultimately
controlled by the impulse to work for the advancement of this

When this impulse comes into more or less strong opposi-
tion to the egoistic or the narrower sympathetic feeling, it
is felt, if it still succeeds in taking effect, as a law which
requires the individual and limited to be subordinated to the
universal and comprehensive. The ethical feeling resulting from
this is i[\e. feeling of duty, \wh\ch. comprises always an element of
resignation, though it does not necessarily, as Kant supposed,
contain a feeling of pain, — at the suppression of the lower sensual
desires of our nature before the majesty of the ethical law. There
may be a relation, even an opposition, between a higher and a lower
in us, without any actual feeling of pain arising from it. The
feeling of the truth and majesty of the ideal can so excite our
activity, that the hindrances produce only the more definite feeling
of our powers. Of course, it is not always so. The hindrances may
be so strong that the most painful opposition and contradiction
arises in the mind. Feeling stands then against feeling, and the
one feeling pronounces judgment on the other. In the opposition
between the ideal recognized and the imperfect realization of the
will, is manifested the ethical feeling oi repentance, in which the in-
dividual confronts as a judge his own existence and his own actions.
Very often repentance is the first form of the feeling of duty, appears
as the birth-pangs of the ethical character. As in the evolution of
cognition a natural sanguineness is manifested, leading to rash
expectations and conclusions, and consequently to disappointments,
so in the province of feeling a blind desire may sweep men along,
and a corrective have to be given afterwards by pain. Even the
(jreeks were keenly alive to the way in which repentance succeeds
the blinding of passion.^ The further development of the ethical
feeling makes it possible to anticipate repentance (ethical disap-
pointment), reflection coming into force already with possible action,
not merely with that already executed. In conscience are asserted
both the corrective power of the ideal as regards the past, and the
capacity of subjecting future action to an ideal test. This is the
ethical memory. In it the experiences of the past fuse with all the
teaching of far-sighted reflection, into one collective power, which
can take expression with the immediateness and strength of the

1 C/. 'the Allegory in the ytli book of the IliaJ, v. 502 — 507.


instinct or of the impulse. Conscience is the most individual and
most concrete form of the ethical feeling.

All repentance does not come under the head of ethical feeling.
It has been observed, in passing, that repentance may be felt even
from the standpoint of mere self-preservation. This is the case
when we have acted against our otherwise dominant selfish interest.
Repentance actjuircs an ethical character only when we feel our-
selves in conflict with the requisitions of sympathy ; and the deeper
and more closely we apprehend the ethical law, the more we feel our-
selves bound to it in our innermost nature, the more powerfully and
penetratingly docs repentance work in us.

The ethical feeling passes through a whole scale of forms of
development. Looked at historically, it does not find full explana-
tion cither in the instinct of self-preservation, or in svmpathy, or in
the intUiencc of the intellect upon feeling. It has developed under
the protection of educative powers, authorities. These powers are
educative partly with intention, and partly without it. They have
often pursued their own ends and yet contributed to the develop-
ment of the ethical feeling, moulding human nature by rewards and
punishment, checking some feelings and cherishing others. At the
lowest stage authority makes its appearance as an overwhelming
physical power; it here instils fear and trembling— that is, purely
egoistic feelings. At higher stages, on the other hand, where authority
appears as a power protecting and promoting life, fear is mingled
with sympathy and admiration, and passes into re7'erence. From
this it is but one step to the true ethical feeling, which presupposes
a conviction independent of external authority.^

The religious feeling is, historically and psychologically, closely
connected with the ethical. — Even it bears at the lowest stage the
character of fear. That fear first created gods, is borne out by the
fact, about which all anthropologists appear to be agreed, that evil
l)eings were worshipped before good ones. Belief in gods and belief
in immortality are at the lowest stage one, for the gods
believed in are the spirits of the dead, and those s])irits only the
object of worship, which are thought capable of doing harm.
Keligious veneration is here a simple recognition of power. A
higher stage is reached where the extraordinary, inconceivable and
wonderful awakes religious feeling ; this acquires then the character
of admiration and of reien/ht', and begins to be of a disin-

1 A more detailed examinaiion of the ethical feeling and its dtvelopment is given in
n\y work, Die C,ruHdla;;;e der Hiimaneit Ethik ("The Basis of Humane Ethics"),
IJonn, 1880.


terested nature. — The feeling acquires real ethical significance only,
when the great powers, on whom man feels himself dependent, are
presented to him as the upholders of ethical aims and excellence.
This stage is reached in the religions of higher races. The religious
feeling has a constant source, which no intellectual progress can
affect, in the great question as to the connection of ethical endeaV-our
with natural evolution in general, and its importance for this. It
can drive out all egoistic and personal stirring of fear and hope,
under the influence partly of insight into the settled, regular order
of nature, partly of the requisitions of ideal ethics. But there
always remains the question of the relation between the ethical
ideals and the actual reality. The fact that everything which we
admire as true, beautiful, and good, has been evolved under natural
conditions gives a religious character even to the idea of nature.
It contains the motive of the idea of an ethical order of the
universe, in consequence of which the innermost essence of reality,
the innermost force of natural evolution, cannot be foreign to that
which works out in human ideals. The religious feeling may be
called a cosmic vital feeling ; as in the organic vital feeling (VI. A.
3a) we have the fundamental mood which is excited in us by the
course of the organic functions, so the religious feeling expresses
the determination of our life of feeling by the course of natural
evolution. Since, however, in actual experience the ideal and
virtuous appears always as a struggling power, the religious feeling
acquires a character of faith and longing, and that idea (of
an ethical order)— looked at theoretically— appears as the final
hvpothesis or final postulate, of the validity of which no other
indication can be found than just the ideal worth itself, whose basis
in reality is postulated. The form in which the idea is expressed,
— the speculations, symbols, and dogmas, to which it leads — with
these psychology is not concerned. Psychology has only to show
how the religious feeling, like the ethical and other feelings, is
determined in its development partly by intellectual influence,
partly by the opposition between egoism and sympathy.

The relation between the ethical and religious feelings is indicated
by this, that in the former we feel a spurring on of our power
of action, in the latter we feel our dependence. If religion and
ethics come into disagreement, the passive and the active poles
of our nature are opposed. This disagreement may arise in
the consciousness of the single individual, as also in the whole
race, the fee'ing of some individuals leading more in the ethical,

VI] Tirr: r.svciioLocjv of fkf.lint, 253

that of others more in the religious direction. A definite and
absolute separation of passivity and activity, of dependence and
active force, is, however, as little possible in the province of feel-
ing as in that of cognition. In receptivity we are always active,
in activity always receptive. Even the forces which we exert in
the strongest effort of our will, we feel as something given to us.
Wc feel that a sustenance is bestowed upon us, without which we
can do nothing, and that all our activity serves in reality only to
promote and unfold that which is built up in us by quiet and un-
conscious growth. The ethical feeling is religious through the
" moment " of resignation and reverence which is inseparable from
it, and the religious feeling is ethical when it becomes more than
egoistic superstition and sentimental enthusiasm. Kant and Fichte
did great service in pointing out this close connection. In so
doing they refined and ennobled the religious as well as the ethical
feeling, and opened up the way to their more perfect harmony.

g. The disinterested feelings presuppose that ideation and im-
agination are sufficiently developed for the object of feeling to be
retained as something that has its independent value. Only in this
way can unselfish love, ethical and religious feeling arise. But even
apart from their object and content, idea and imagination are of
importance for feeling. The special activity of ideation and of
imagination may become a source of special feelings.

Cognition is from the first in the service of instinct and impulse.
The thoughts are spies of the instinct of self-preservation. Know-
ledge is valued as a means to power. At this stage there arises
no properly intellectual feeline;. Even where what is sought is
not external power or advantage, but mental freedom and in-
dependence, the feeling excited by the activity of cognition is
not purely intellectual. The intellectual feeling arises only when
the relation among the ideas becomes the determining factor,
quite apart from the internal or external consequences which
cognition has for us. The presupposition is that the struggle
for existence is not too hard and peremptory in its demands.
Further, so great a multitude of ideas must have been formed
that they can arrange themselves primarily according to their
own laws, without immediate intervention of feelings and im-
pulses. There then arises joy in agreement, sequence, and con-
nection, and a feeling of pain at discord, contradiction, and lack of
connection, and this pleasure or pain is felt not merely because our
standard of truth is maintained or disregarded, but because in


harmony or discord itself there is something immediately satisfying
or painful. Under this head comes also the delight in new facts
and discoveries. Even if these upset opinions that previously held
good and so excite disquiet and doubt, they yet open up a wider
vista and point to a connection larger than any hitherto suspected.

As there are musical and poetical natures, so are there also
intellectual natures. To these latter self-contradiction, confusion,
and want of connection are just as painful as false notes and
wretched verses to the former.

The ccsthetic feeling is in some of its forms related to the
intellectual. Pleasure in symmetry and rhythm, generally in the
form of phenomena, finds its explanation in the ease and clear-
ness with which the percepts arrange themselves. The cognitive
faculties operate here without inhibitive contradiction, command
their material as in play. The higher sensations (colours and
sounds) excite, as has been seen, moods which are differentiated
from the general vital feeling. This is still more the case with
combinations and groups of colours and sounds.

The feeling for beauty comes into play even in the animal
kingdom, for colours, sourids, scent, and rhythmical movement
are employed as means of allurement in courtship. Even in man
the feeling of love excites the imagination to a greater freedom
and boldness, and opens the eyes to colours and forms. At this
stage beauty is only a means, as truth is so long as the cognition
works only in the service of the instinct of self-preservation. But
through the psychological process already described, that which
was originally only an opening for the instinct may become an
independent end. This assthetic development goes in some
measure hand in hand with the general development of sym-
pathy. The two support one another ; the power of unselfish
devotion is common to both.

In the pleasure of self-adcrnment (with feathers, pearls, bits ot
bone, or by tattooing), there is exhibited in even the lowest human
races an aesthetic feeling. The next step is delight in weapons
and other implements, apart from their use. These are fancifully
worked and ornamented with pictures. Hence the very instru-
ments for carrying on the struggle for existence become sources
of pleasure. And as with the instruments, so with their employ-
ment. When imperative necessity has been satisfied and the
exertion recovered from, an impulse arises to movement for its
vwn sake. The wild animal plays, if it is not troubled by hunger.

VI] THE PSVCFfnI.'»';V oV I- i:i:i,!N( i 265

fatigue or danger. The savage plays at warfare, and finds an outlet
for his recovered energies in violent movements. In play, which
arose as a means of employing the " superabundance of force,"
Schiller {[/der die yEsthciische Ersiehung dcs Afcnschen, letter 27)
saw the germ of all art, a thought which Herbert Spencer has
attempted to work out.

The aesthetic feeling has thus grown out of the instincts which
lead to the preservation of the individual and of the race. It
presupposes a superfluity of energy, which is not needed in the
struggle for existence, and may consequently be disposed of in
other ways. But this gives merely the material. The special way
in which it is employed is dependent upon the intellectual develop-
ment. If excitations are to produce an aesthetic effect, there must
be a certain articulateness of sense organ, so that fine gradations
may be apprehended instead of all sensations being absorbed in
the general vital feeling. It must be possible to have free play of
colours, forms, sounds, and movements. The direct excitation is
not, however, enough. To produce an aesthetic effect, it must not
only make itself felt in its strength, kind and form, but its effect
must also be able to branch out in consciousness, inciting a
wealth of ideas and moods, clear or obscure. In an aesthetic
effect, therefore, a distinction may be made between the im-
mediate element acting directly, and the associations excited.^
In music the direct factor prevails, in poetry the associative ;
the plastic and pictorial arts stand in this respect between the
two. The feelings excited by sound and rhythm, by the rise
and fall, the strife and harmony, of sounds, have a vague and
general character, and do not necessarily arouse definite ideas.
The strong intlucnce of music on feeling depends upon this very
freedom and depth of mood, which results from the fact that
the whole audible expression of feeling is recalled without the
definite occasion or object which in every individual case excites it.
This is why musical compositions admit of such different inter-
pretations ; to one and the same direct element very many and
varied associative elements may correspond. The pictorial and
plastic arts make an approach to music, the more they take effect
by play of colours and harmony of form. But here the definite

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 29 of 41)